Oil and Gas Industry Advocates Launch Surprise Attack on Texas Environmental Science Textbook

When the State Board of Education‘s public hearing on new science textbooks for Texas public schools finally began late Wednesday night, it became clear that creationists were unable to mount a real attack on the biology textbooks. So all looked to be going well — until it became equally clear that oil and gas industry interests had decided to attack the only environmental science textbook up for adoption by the state board.

The last person to testify, Becky Berger, who identified herself a geologist and oil and gas professional, insisted that high schools shouldn’t even teach environmental science classes. She proceeded to attack the environmental science textbook from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH). Berger claimed that the textbook is filled with factual errors on topics like pollution potentially caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and the problem of carbon emissions (which the vast majority of scientists say is the primary cause of climate change). But she provided no actual written documentation to back up her claims. None. In fact, she didn’t even provide a list of the alleged errors so that the publisher could respond to her claims.

The state’s official review teams had not identified any factual errors in the HMH textbook. In fact, one of the reviewers included this comment in the official review document:

Overall, the book is well put together and offers several case studies to put learning in context and some good online resources for labs and research (EcoZine articles). The formative assessments are not necessarily formative, but that is more of a pedagogical arguement [sic]. Far superior to other, on level books that I have seen, and very similar to the Miller text used by AP Environment Science classes.

Nevertheless, some board members decided that Berger — who had not been part of the review process — apparently was more credible. They expressed shock that the textbook had factual errors — errors that Berger had claimed but not documented. And they made clear that the textbook’s adoption was now in question.

The entire episode showed just how easy it is for special interests, at the last minute, to hijack the textbook adoption process in Texas. We’ve seen it happen again and again.

In another twist to this story, Berger didn’t bother to tell the board that she is a Republican candidate for the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. Was she grandstanding in an attempt to gain support from anti-regulation tea party activists and oil and gas interests deciding whose campaigns to fund? That seems a reasonable question for board members to ask.

Moreover, Berger was a late addition to the list of testifiers on Wednesday. Throughout the day, conservative activists and websites had been urging activists to call on the state board to reject the science textbooks up for adoption — especially the environmental science textbook. From the Women on the Wall website:

This week the State Board of Education (SBOE) decides whether the next generation of Texas public school students have textbooks that teach 21st-century/Common Core science which is filled with  Global Warming/Climate Change propaganda that demonizes the oil/ natural gas industry. If these textbooks are approved Texas’ oil/natural gas industry will eventually be destroyed. The oil/gas industry drives our Great State’s economy and provides thousands of jobs–we must protect it.

Call write, tweet, facebook do what ever it takes to let them know you do NOT want them to adopt the proposed Science text books.

Women on the Wall is run by Alice Linahan, who has her own for-profit political outfit Voices Empower. Voices Empower posted the same call to reject the science textbooks. (Linahan has also helped lead the right-wing witch hunt against CSCOPE, a curriculum management system used in hundreds of public and private schools in Texas.)

So what happens now? The publisher (and Texas Education Agency staff) have asked to see a list of the alleged errors and documentation to back up the claims. The question right now, however, is whether the lack of such documentation will matter much to politicians on the State Board of Education. Stay tuned.

28 thoughts on “Oil and Gas Industry Advocates Launch Surprise Attack on Texas Environmental Science Textbook

  1. I believe they’re doing this, sadly. If only industry would put the millions they spend – lobbying politicians, buying media, and paying lawyers to keep people quiet – into the development and production of renewable energy, everyone, including the folks working in industry, would be better off and we just might be able to save the planet for future generations.

  2. Dan: Good job so far of “follow the money….” If they’re not protecting the church, they’re protecting “Big Oil.” Perhaps different heads of the same Hydra….

    1. @Clifton Stuckey: Good observation. I’m from that land up North of hydroelectric & tall Douglas firs.
      “You have to burn something to make electricity.”
      Riiiiight! Diesel & coal cost money — someone must be paid along the pipeline, so to speak. Alternative energy costs a lot too, but it is the technology & engineering to harness >> wind, solar, hydro. Perhaps Big Oil should (if they haven’t already) invest more in tech & engineering >> alternative energy.

      1. Too bad right-wingers’ credibilities aren’t flammable—they’ve burned theirs for years.

  3. “…and the problem of carbon emissions (which the vast majority of scientists say is the primary cause of climate change)”

    Not to split hairs here, but it’s not the vast majority of scientists who say that climate change is caused by carbon emissions, but rather climate scientists (i.e. climatologists) who make this claim. Frankly, who cares what a geologist or pathologist says about the climate.

    1. The consensus of 97% of climate scientists is from a recent survey but a survey of multiple disciplines was conducted. “An earlier survey published in the 2009 issue of Eos — a publication of the American Geophysical Union — surveyed scientists from a wide range of disciplines (approximately 3,146) and asked: “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” Approximately 82 percent of the surveyed scientists answered yes to this question. Of those climate change specialists surveyed, 97.4 percent answered yes to this question.”

      So yes the belief that carbon emissions are the primary cause of global warming actually is the vast majority of scientists. Other surveys of the broader scientific community can be found, I’m just listing the Politifact Source because it was easy to find.

  4. I have posted my report on Becky Berger on Texas Theocracy Watch. It is very detailed.

    1. Thanks, Steven: I took a quick look at your blog comments re: Becky. I’ll read it more thoroughly later when I have more time. Ms Berger is what I’d call a “… real piece of work….” Her comments have nefarious agenda written all over them.

  5. You people make me laugh! Your the biggest bunch of sheeple, idiots I have ever seen! Keep on repeating Ovomit and MSNBC’S talking points, keep bashing religions, and I will keep getting richer and drilling holes in your backyards! Lol. You all know nothing about The Oil and Gas industry, I think you all deserve to freeze to death this winter.

  6. Next up, representatives from Krispy Kreme will object to health education textbooks that discuss good nutrition and best dietary practices … because said topics are clearly “biased and one-sided”.

  7. Why don’t these stories, this one and ones in Huff Post, quote the controversial assertions in the textbook? Shouldn’t a news story like this show you the facts of the case and let you be the judge? Of course, it is laughable that the last minute objections were from a politician with a gigantic bias claiming to be a scientist which she is not. What a crazy world we live in.

    1. Why don’t they quote the (allegedly) controversial assertions? Perhaps for the reason stated in the post: we don’t know. Ms. Berger has yet to identify any specific passages she objects to. That makes the allegations rather hard to address. She did, however, both within her testimony and in other places make her anti-environmental biases quite clear.

  8. The inventor (in part) of modern hydraulic fracturin (fraking), the late George Mitchell was also the founder of the climate science group the HARC – the Houston Advanced Research Center. Mitchell understood the need for sustainability. Isn’t it TRAGIC how they took his money and invention and ignore the rest of his scientific knowledge when it comes to climate, age of the Earth, and even evolution? It is disrespectful and foolhardy.

    Mitchell on Sustainability in 2008: http://www.chron.com/business/energy/article/George-Mitchell-still-pushes-energy-conservation-1678366.php